The power of the “on” switch

As part of UNESCO's International Year of Light, Ghana is looking at how light design and technology can lead to sustainable development.

2015 is the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL), a global initiative adopted by the United Nations to raise awareness of how optical technologies can provide solutions to worldwide challenges in energy, education, agriculture, communications and health. From solar and kinetically-powered lighting to environmentally-friendly options using recycled plastic bottles and water, many designers (especially on the African continent) are switching to off-the-grid solutions for rural populations. 

“An International Year of Light is a tremendous opportunity to ensure that international policymakers and stakeholders are made aware of the problem-solving potential of light technology. We now have a unique opportunity to raise global awareness of this,” said John Dudley, Chairman of the IYL 2015 Steering Committee.

Ghana’s IYL initiatives look at the ways in which light design and technology can be harnessed for sustainable development and provide solutions to many of the socio-economic challenges on the African continent. Ghana has brought on board global partnerships involving optical societies, scientific unions and photonic industries to help harness the benefits of light. 

The recently launched programme also highlighted four priority areas for the country. The Laser and Fiber Optics Centre at the University of Cape Coast will be upgraded into a centre of excellence to develop the skills of young scientists in the fields of lasers and fibre optics and to research light-based technologies relevant to the growth of Ghana’s economy. Attracting young minds to the science of light is one of the country's key objectives for IYL 2015. In this vein, the Ada College of Education held a workshop to deepen teachers', university and school students' knowledge of light science.

A sub-regional Laser Medical Application Laboratory will be established to train medical practitioners in laser technologies in the field of urology, ophthalmology, dentistry and general surgery.

Thirdly, a Solar Technology Research Centre will be established that looks at solar energy and how to harness sunlight to satisfy the country’s energy needs and promote alternative energy resources.

Finally, Ghana plans to open the Museum of Light and Light-based Technologies, which will explore the relationship of light with other sciences. The museum will house permanent exhibits on the basic principles of light, the chemistry of stars and the generation, perception and use of colour. 

In May 2015, the government of Ghana will host an Africa Regional Conference and Exhibition on "Harnessing Light and Light-based Technologies for Africa's Development" in Accra, which will promote interaction and dialogue among various stakeholders in using lighting concepts to tap into developmental strategies.

To celebrate the International Year of Light, designers and artists from 89 countries around the world are hosting immersive lighting-based exhibitions that spotlight the creative expression, technological possibilities and socio-economic impact of light. Here are three:  

Singapore: Layers of Light 

Lighting design studio Nipek designed and produced a lighting installation for the recent Singapore Design Week. Using traditional Japanese handcrafted “washi” paper in conjunction with an interactive digital lighting control system, the installation showcased the beauty that in the play of light and shadow. Long paper panels flanked the entrance to the National Design Centre in Singapore. Daylight filters through the layers and creates gradation of varying shades. After dark, the lighting is animated by the interactive LED lighting system. The lighting changes dynamically as people walk through the space.

Italy: Favilla, To Every Light A Voice

During Milan Design Week later this month, the city will host an installation by architect Attilio Stocchi entitled “Favilla, To Every Light a Voice”. The piece, at the Piazza San Fedele, will evoke the mystery surrounding light’s origins. The experience will unveil the nature of light and its origins in four different episodes: rectilinear propagation, diffraction, reflection and refraction, all accompanied by voice-like sounds.

France: Lumières – The Play of Brilliants

Éléphant Paname, a new art and dance centre in the heart of Paris, presents the exhibition, Lumières - Play of Brilliants, which runs until 31 May 2015. The exhibition takes its name from a phrase made famous by American lighting designer Richard Kelly – considered by many as the pioneer of architectural lighting design – used to describe the magic of light when it adds sparkle and vivacity to a space. The interactive show includes immersive installations showing the playful nature of light by 10 designers from the US, UK, Europe and Australia, such as United Visual Artists, Soo Sunny Park and Laurent Fort. 

More on Design Thinking